The state’s largest farm organization has gone on record opposing a new national beef checkoff program proposed by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
At its December annual meeting, voting delegates of the Alabama Farmers Federation unanimously adopted policy supporting the existing National Beef Checkoff and opposing creation of a second checkoff under a 1996 law.
In a recent letter, Federation President Jimmy Parnell, a cattle and timber farmer, urged Vilsack not to order a separate national beef checkoff.
“We believe such action is duplicative, unnecessary and the wrong approach to beef promotion,” Parnell said. “We already have a very successful national beef checkoff that returns more than $11 for every dollar contributed by farmers and ranchers. Farmers and ranchers strongly support the current national beef checkoff.”
Currently, Alabama cattlemen contribute $2 per head of cattle sold to beef checkoffs. One dollar is contributed to the National Beef Checkoff, half of which is returned to the State Cattle Beef Board for education, promotion and research. The other $1 goes to the State Beef Checkoff, which was reaffirmed in 2013. Both checkoffs enjoy a producer-approval rate of near 80 percent.
Farmers and ranchers approved the existing national beef checkoff in 1988. It collects money for education, promotion and research. Subsequent votes showed lopsided approval for the current checkoff.
Little is known about Vilsack’s proposed checkoff except he hopes to have collections begin by January 2016. However, no other details about how the checkoff would be structured or administered have been released. Vilsack issued a Notice of Inquiry Nov. 10 aimed at gathering public input about how a new checkoff should be structured. Those comments will supposedly be used to create a draft rule to be published in early 2015. The Alabama Farmers Federation is submitting comments to officially be on record opposing the new checkoff which is in line with its recently passed policy.
“We urge you, Mr. Secretary, please do not issue an order for a separate, national beef checkoff,” Parnell wrote in his letter. “Current American Farm Bureau policy supports checkoff programs only if they have approval by producer referendum prior to implementation. Based on the lack of stakeholder input sought up until this point, we cannot be certain that would be the case.”
Members of the Federation State Beef Committee support an increase to the current national beef checkoff and also have collectively voted to oppose implementation of the new beef checkoff proposed by Vilsack. Multiple qualified state beef councils, including the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, also oppose Vilsack’s plan.
All 67 counties in Alabama have an active Federation Beef Commodity Committee that develops the organization’s policy relating to the cattle business. Cattle farming in Alabama contributes $524 million to the state’s economy and directly employs more than 6,200 people, according to a recent survey by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.